THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
AND THE BIG FINISH
AUDIO DRAMA "THE
LAND OF THE DEAD."
OFFICIAL BBC 'PAST
RELEASED IN MARCH
In 1863 the British
Empire is effectively
without a leader.
Queen Victoria is
grief following the
death of her beloved
Albert. The monarch's
last hope is a secret
are also coming to
Terms with loss,
following the death
of Adric and Tegan's
Trying to visit the
Great Exhibition of
1851, the time
shocked when a ghost
appears in the TARDIS,
beckoning them to the
guarded by the
British Army? Is
there life after death
and can it be reached
by those still alive?
And why is the
Doctor so terrified of
facing his own
Empire of Death
“Empire of Death” by David Bishop is quite an aberrant story for Doctor Who, let alone John Nathan-Turner-era Doctor Who. Being an almost purely historical ghost story, free from the preponderance of science-fiction trappings that typify most contemporaneous stories, is almost enough to set this one apart from the crowd in any event; however, given that “Empire of Death” also takes an unexploited (and some might even say ‘boring’) companion and surveys her character in a manner which is really quite extraordinary indeed, I think it is fair
to say that this novel is truly exceptional.
The book’s striking cover illustration certainly betrays its period setting, if not perhaps its overridingly ethereal pitch. There is something about the image of the Doctor in that antiquated diving suit which encapsulates the essence of this story exquisitely; only in
Doctor Who could a character try to cross over to the other side - whilst still alive - by transgressing an underwater ‘magic portal’ in a diving suit!
In addition, the author’s foundation for his story ties in marvellously with his use of the recently-bereaved Queen Victoria, whose prolonged mourning for her late husband, Albert, has been well-documented in the years since her death. Bishop’s portrayal of this renowned historical giant walks the tightrope splendidly – Victoria remains a strong and wilful ruler throughout, yet she is not afraid to show grief at her loss, or indeed awe at the possibility of being reunited with her dearly departed lover.
What I also like about this one is how the Doctor quickly worms his way into the Queen’s inner circle under the good old-fashioned guise of ‘John Smith from Scotland Yard’. As so much of the narrative dwells on Nyssa’s gloomy internal battle, it is a real delight to see the Time Lord’s vivacious fifth incarnation doing what he does best – dashing about, and lumbering ham-fisted into situations that he cannot quite get a handle on.
Of course, that is not to say that Bishop does not given the Doctor some quieter, more tasteful moments – there is one passage that particularly sticks in my mind where the Doctor introduces Nyssa to the ‘Place of Remembrance’ that he keeps in the TARDIS, which is filled with mementos from all of his former travelling companions (even Sara Kingdom!)
Further, the Doctor also enjoys a very touching scene where he forces Nyssa to confront the ghosts of her past. It works so very well because he has to be so brutal to her in order to be so kind, which especially in this relatively docile incarnation must have been a great effort for him.
Turning to the ghosts of Nyssa’s past, it really has to be said that Bishop has done an incredible job in fleshing out and ultimately addressing the numerous traumas that have plagued this character since she first met the Doctor back in “The Keeper of Traken”. In
short order she lost her father, whose body was then worn by his killer almost as a trophy; she lost Adric; and at this point in her life, in a manner of speaking she had even lost Tegan. And whilst on television the production team made sure that each member of the fifth Doctor’s original entourage had their own little theme tune, they did not really do a tremendous amount in terms of dealing with ‘little things’ like unmourned fathers and friends.
“You didn’t die during childbirth. I killed you. I murdered you!”
However, not content with having Nyssa confront the ghosts of her father and Adric, the author also has her run into the ghost of her mother, Lucina, who we discover died in childbirth; apparently slain by Nyssa’s nascent physic powers. Now from reading my admittedly terse précis, it may sound like Bishop is overegging the pudding somewhat, but in reality this final reveal works well within the context of the story, and even serves as a sort of catalyst for Nyssa; her first step on the road to recovery, if you will.
Bishop’s approach to telling this story also has to be applauded. The extracts from Nyssa’s diary are skilfully crafted; they just seem to capture her character so very well. Pretentiously entitled ‘Observations and Analysis: A Journal’, Nyssa’s diary is ostensibly a very cold and scientific affair (a far cry from Bernice Summerfield’s wild tales of debauchery!), yet underneath it all her loneliness and her uncertainty are both there to be felt in spates. Her observations of the Doctor I also found incredibly illuminating.
If truth be told, my only real frustration with this novel is that it was not an audio drama; the diary extracts especially I feel would have fitted the Big Finish format like a glove, and I
would have loved to have heard Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton get their teeth into such rich, emotive material.
All told then, “Empire of Death” is one that I would strongly advocate reading, particularly to regular listeners of Davison and Sutton’s Big Finish audio adventures. It is an astonishing character piece, Bishop doing for Nyssa here what he did for Dodo Chaplet way back in the seminal “Who Killed Kennedy”, only - funnily enough - without killing her.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This novel is set in the gap between Seasons 19 and 20, along with many other adventures in several different mediums. As the story’s opening appears to be set almost immediately after Tegan’s departure at the end of Time-Flight and Nyssa’s psychic powers are still latent, we are of the view that Empire of Death is set before any of the other stories set in this off-season lacuna.
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